Our most pressing skills shortage is at Conservative HQ

The opposition to educational reform and immigration caps could’ve been easily routed by a more switched-on Government. The Coalition’s failure to do this is another indictment of the researchers around David Cameron.

The slick manner in which the Progressive battalions turn themselves inside out to create a debate is, I confess, a skill I grudgingly admire. Far from resenting the fact that they do it, I reserve my ire for those who wish to preserve what’s good about Britain, and yet fail miserably to interrogate the smug insanity of the Left’s logic. Indeed, I suspect that the Coalition in general and Cameron in particular are more than happy to accept that logic. It does, after all, lead to a quieter life.

Two huge debates have been created thus since we parted company with New Labour. One is about education, and the other is about immigration. The educational Establishment claims that the system is just fine. And the multicultural supporters fall back on “but we need to import the skills” whenever there is talk of capping immigrant arrivals.

Yet I’m not aware of anyone in or around the Government asking the Opposition, “So if the education system is working just fine, why do we need to import the skills?” It seems to me to represent a use of just seventeen words to collapse the resistance to radical change in migratory and educational reform….but nobody has employed them.

The CBI (which gets dafter every year) has gaily torpedoed the Coalition on immigrant ‘skills’, but also failed to torpedo the Left’s ‘education is tickerty-boo’ nonsense. (It failed, for example, to note that 362,000 people enter Britain every year as students, a burden we should abolish immediately after the start of business on Monday.)

I’ve also been left wondering in recent weeks – what with 1.4million Britons being unemployed – why employers can’t retrain them for the necessary skill requirements; and if our economy is so stagnant (and trust me, it is) why this need for skills is so desperately pressing. In fact, it would be nice if there was somebody bright enough around the Cabinet table to at least show how New Labour’s education and immigration policies hugely exacerbated our long-term economic problems. As far as I can see to date, there isn’t. But that the previous Government screwed up royally in these areas is (as we shall see) undeniable.

In a nutshell, New Labour’s obsession with University targets created millions of young workers with the wrong skills for much of the work done by immigrants – and equally important, the wrong attitude.

A report by LSC (the Learning & Skills Council) of 2008 on the impact of migrant workers in the West Midlands records this in damning detail. The LSC was yet another quango dumped by Draper Osborne, but on the evidence of the above report, this might have been a mistake.

Over 85% of the immigrants were under 28, and over 90% of them had more apposite skills for the jobs on offer versus British applicants.

Employer reasons for preferring them (over and above their skill-lead versus British counterparts) were highly significant:

Better work ethic (64%), will consider job and will work harder (42%), more reliable (20%).

But here is a telling gem of data which begins to tug the rug from under those who insist that most job shortages are commercial – ie, required for economic/export health: 48% of all the immigrant workers went into care assistant jobs in the aged and mental care sectors. (In my father’s care home, there are rarely more than three British-born helpers at any given time).

This huge bias led me to investigate further exactly where in our economy these skill shortages are alleged to lie. As ever, this meant delving into the dark world of pc-spin as practised by government departments – everyone who comes here these days is a migrant: immigrants have been abolished – but starting here and then moving onto commercial employment sites was again revealing.

There is a list – yes, there is a list – of these skill shortages, but none of the government search engines point you at them, because it is called the UK shortage occupation list. Don’t ask me why, it’s another pointless strangulation of plain English.

A good deal of the clear information I gleaned came from the site GetUKjobs.com, a private sector outfit attracting foreign workers here. It quotes a survey of European CIOs by IDC, which found that ‘demand for people with certain skills is likely to outstrip availability by about 40,000 people in the UK’.

Note that figure: 40,000. It’s not what you’d call a massive skill shortage is it? I mean, it wouldn’t make much of a dent in the 28% of UK citizens deemed to be ‘economically inactive’.

In fact, another portal run by IT placement specialists ContractorUK suggests that in IT, there will be a skill shortage in its sector by 2018 ‘if this is not addressed’. Which kind of makes one wonder why the only way of addressing it is to import the skills: why not open vocational courses for our myriad unemployed graduates right now? There is, after all, no shortage of them.

But the argument for importing skill shortages gets weaker bordering on farcical when one studies the official list in detail. Here are the highlights:

There are severe shortages of ballet dancers, musicians, sheep-shearers, chefs, cooks and butchers.

There are shortages of care assistants and social workers (mainly Local Government, but the jobs have probably all been cut by now anyway).

There are shortages of every type of doctor, consultant, theatre technician, radiographer and medical researcher (90% of these are NHS).

And there’s a dearth of civil engineers to do with the UK built environment. But no shortage of lawyers.

Irony of final ironies, there is a chronic shortage of teachers in maths, physics, chemistry, and biology…but none at all for those teaching media studies. This lack of teaching staff in all the key commercial disciplines is of course a national disgrace of bad planning and target mania; but another reason why the DfE can’t attract them is the problem of both discipline and pc madness. (An Australian teacher we met in November, fresh back from teaching in Britain, told us “I finally gave up when the Head Teacher said we mustn’t mark in red ink, because that was redolent of failure”.)

Either way, none of the above, I would contend, is going to do anything at all to drive British exports in the coming years. The one thing the Coalition has yet to get a steer on is where this growth will come from; but it’s unlikely to involve much in the way of sheep, violinists, and NHS surgeons.

So athough the slavish-as-ever BBCNews site insists that ‘the skills shortage is costing the UK billions of pounds’, these data do cast doubt on that assertion. Rather more to the point, they also suggest that much of the debate on education and immigration is self-serving, defensive tosh. Above all, it’s clear that the skill shortage is both less urgent than has been suggested – and entirely self-inflicted.

Accepting that conclusion, why has this Government once again been given the runaround by the forces of obfuscation? The answer, I’m afraid, is that the Conservative Party has a skill shortage of major proportions itself: and it’s called people with the thoroughness and insight to dig out the real data, and use them as a jawbone with which to smite the asses on the opposing side.

Nby and Slog veterans will be sick of hearing about this by now (as no doubt is ConservativeHome) but since the day of his accession, David Cameron’s research and information-gathering has been truly awful. I have to assume that he is surrounded by yet more people like him: fast-footwork merchants who unfortunately have their analytical skills in those same nimble feet.

As Opposition Leader, Cameron failed to land a single real blow on Brown, failed to counter a single myth about Britain’s economic outlook, and failed throughout the campaign to produce a single piece of media advertising to highlight huge holes in the Mandelsonian Brownshirt arguments. As a direct result of this (and far too much anodyne drivel on the EU question) he failed to get a clear majority – and thus finds himself in a Coalition that is getting in the way on the big issues.

The Prime Minister’s briefing system is unfit for purpose if – when faced with open goals like our risible education system and incontinent immigration policy – he can still wind up with street demos and facile arguments about ‘a dearth of skilled workers’….and lots of trimming in all directions. When things really turn unpleasant next year, the Coalition cannot afford to be outwitted at every turn by wreckers who have no real rationale for their opposition. He must get some talented and profound researchers round him, and fast. Failure to address the problem could easily hand victory to the other side – and that would, truly, be a final disaster for the United Kingdom.